This book was Jasper Fforde’s debut novel, and the first to feature Thursday Next as heroine. A surreal adventure set in a 1985 where literary theft has become a terrible problem, the Crimea is still being fought over by England and Russia, Wales is a secretive Socialist Republic, the mega-corporation Goliath bank roll the economy and the biggest controversy is who really wrote the plays of Shakespeare.
Thursday Next is a LiteraTec in Special Operations 27. Based in London, but originally from Swindon, a veteran of the Crimea and desperately seeking a way out of the Literary Detectives and into a more interesting Spec Op department, she takes a temporary assignment to Spec Op 5 and is thrown against an enemy more deadly than Russian Howitzers, Acheron Hades. Hades has stolen the original Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript but nobody can work out how.
Grievously injured in an operation that sees her losing all her colleagues, Thursday opts to take a job with Swindon’s LiteraTec department, on her own advice. Convinced that Hades is still alive despite everyone believing otherwise, Thursday is up against the Goliath Corporation and their representative Jack Schitt, who’s after a marvellous new weapon that will win the war in the Crimea, as well as Hades.
When Thursday’s eccentric but brilliant uncle Mycroft and her aunt Polly go missing, Hades is the first to be suspected. Thursday must rescue her aunt and uncle, defeat Hades, regain the Chuzzlewit and Jane Eyre manuscripts and outwit Jack Schitt. And all before her former-fiancé gets married at 3pm a week Saturday.
I’ve read one of the later Thursday Next books, and it definitely makes slightly more sense now. As much as anything makes sense in Jasper Fforde’s novels at least. This novel was highly praised when it was first published 12 years ago and it still stands as an excellent piece of literature; full of wit, bibliographic in-jokes, with unique characters and an incredibly inventive plot.